Petri Rebuts LightSquared Ad in Letter to CEO

Sep 15, 2011 Issues: Internet Policy, Transportation

In a letter to the chairman and CEO of a controversial wireless company, House Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Tom Petri (R-WI) sought to set the record straight Thursday following the company's ad in the Wall Street Journal the day before.

LightSquared, a wireless broadband company, has been mired in controversy because it plans to use a portion of the radio spectrum adjacent to that used by global positioning system (GPS) satellites and the GPS equipment used in cars, planes, military equipment and elsewhere to help users navigate trips or identify the location of GPS-enabled equipment.  A fully functioning GPS system is critical to ongoing efforts to modernize the nation's air traffic control system. 

Petri gives voice to concerns he has heard that LightSquared's ground-based equipment will cause an unacceptable level of interference.  In his letter to LightSquared chairman and CEO Sanjiv Ahuja, Petri noted:  "The U.S. Department of Transportation has stated the GPS interference could result in almost 800 aviation fatalities and cost over $100 billion.  Our military operations, search and rescue efforts and many more activities affecting the safety and well being of the general public could be impacted."

LightSquared has been reported to be working on a technical fix to prevent interference.  Petri says that's fine if they can pull it off without causing an undue burden to GPS users, but in the meantime he contends that the Federal Communications Commission has been far too accommodating in allowing LightSquared to proceed with its plans.

In his letter, Petri objected to LightSquared's ad which placed the blame for the controversy on the manufacturers of GPS equipment.  Petri responded:

"This ignores the fact that GPS was located on this part of the spectrum long before LightSquared devised its plan to employ a terrestrial network within the Satellite band of radio spectrum."

"In fact, your spectrum was purchased at bargain prices because it was not intended for terrestrial operations," Petri continued.  "If it were always intended for such use, it would have been of much higher value.  It became high value spectrum when it became clear that LightSquared's business plan was to abuse the ancillary terrestrial authorization and use the spectrum for terrestrial based operations - a radical change to the intended use of spectrum."

"I would suggest that it is LightSquared using a part of the spectrum for inappropriate purposes that has led to this dilemma," Petri wrote.  "Don't blame GPS, a service that is vital to our national security, aviation safety and efficiency, serves billions of users and the overall public good."